The Roots of Reborn: Ed Brubaker on the Return of Cap

Ed Brubaker: The Roots of Reborn

Last week, Ed Brubaker began telling a story he started three years ago.

Okay, that’s a rather dramatic way to say that Captain America: Reborn #1 by Brubaker, Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice hit comic shops, and promises, by virtue of its title, to bring Steve Rogers, the original Captain America back into the land of the living.

It’s rare in comics today that a writer gets to tell a long-term story that spans years of both real and “comic book” time, and Brubaker has spent his years on Captain America layering a complex story that centered on the death of Captain America.

We spoke with Brubaker to talk more about Reborn, it’s lengthy gestation, its nod to Vonnegut and more.

Newsarama: Ed, you've said that you had this story planned all along, since before issue #25, since back to when you began on the series. Really? So your original pitch went along the lines of, "And then, we 'kill' him, and let Bucky come in..." ?

Ed Brubaker: Well, this part of the story has been planned since I was working on issue #16 or so. The original pitch didn't go that far, just to the end of the big Winter Soldier storyline, and then had a bit of the Red Skull's Revenge plot, which is what we're still playing out, strangely enough.

As I've said in a few interviews already, when I heard about Civil War and went to my first Marvel summit and heard Millar's storyline and his ending beats, then I decided to tweak my Red Skull revenge storyline so it began with the Death of Cap. I can't claim for certain that killing Cap was my idea. I think it was, but there were a lot of people and ideas bouncing around in that room, and I do remember it being suggested that he get killed in Civil War #7, at one point.

But my original plan was to only have him be dead for six issues. It wasn't until after the story started being written that it just kept opening up and I kept seeing new possibilities. It wasn't originally my plan to have Bucky pick up the shield, but eventually it just felt like the next step in his path to redemption. Plus, Jeph Loeb kept saying "shouldn't somebody wear a Cap costume in Cap's book?"

NRAMA: Given that you've been writing for literally years now, and looking back, were there clues that you put in that you expected more people to pick up on? I remember back in one of our chats, I think it was mentioned that Doom's contraption looked a lot like a time platform, even though it wasn’t explicitly named...

EB: Yeah, everything I'm doing in Reborn is laid out here and there in the issues, from about issue #23 onward, actually. Even the WW2 annual I did with Javier and Marcos has a few crumbs in it at the end. The Doom/Skull pact, the device they're using in issue #42. Even calling Sharon "the constant" was way back then, in issues #41 and #42.

NRAMA: As we spoke about years back, Bucky's return happened around the same time as Jason Todd's return to Batman's world, and now, Cap's return seems to echo Batman's "death" and apparently his current predicament. Er...funny old world, ennit?

EB: Well, with the Judd thing, we spoke right when we each got those gigs, at Wonder Con that year, and both of us were like "I'm bringing back Jason Todd" "I'm bringing back Bucky!" at the same time, and then we laughed about it. We're old friends, so I was prepared for that. With the Batman thing, I honestly haven't read Final Crisis yet so I didn't know about it until Fraction told me the Batman thing at Heroes Con a few weeks ago (I'm a fan of Morrison's work, I just didn't get to that one yet, but I dig All Star Superman and his new Batman and Robin book).

But I wrote the Death of Cap almost three years ago, though, so I wasn't really worried since Batman's death was just a few months back.

NRAMA: Speaking of the Batman comparison, there are those who are saying that you're just ripping off Morrison's Final Crisis ideas for Batman, (even though we haven't seen Batman hopping through time, just living in a cave with another man - not that we're judging). But honestly, Cap's jumping had a more Vonnegut feel to me, as if Steve Rogers was Billy Pilgrim...given the war connections, we're you aiming towards a Slaughterhouse Five feel?

EB: Yeah, just like in last season's LOST, it's a nod or an homage to Vonnegut's time-slipping ideas in Slaughterhouse. The idea that time can be perceived differently, in a non-linear fashion, and your consciousness could slip around in your body throughout your life. I've been obsessed with that idea ever since I read that book as a kid. And it's something that seemed to fit perfectly with Steve Rogers being the whole "man out of time" of the Marvel Universe. It's an idea I've always wanted to do a riff on, and it gives me a way to bring him back while showing important and pivotal events from his life from a different perspective.

NRAMA: The "unstuck in time" or "slipping in time" idea has become a bit of a classic sci-fi idea, really, that a lot of people touch on…

EB: And I doubt it was originated by Vonnegut, even. I know Dick did it in Martian Time-Slip which was earlier, and I think Sturgeon did a story with someone skipping in time in their own body, too, but I can't remember it off the top of my head. And of course, most famously, it was riffed on in Watchmen with Doctor Manhattan. It's probably down to Einstein somehow.

And, not to get defensive here, but I would take issue with the use of the phrase "ripping off" though, because that's not how I think as a writer. I'm no more "ripping off" Final Crisis than they were "ripping off" Captain America when they killed Batman and made Robin the new Batman. It's just that both Morrison and I are doing big stories with big villains created by Jack Kirby in the ‘40s, ‘60s and ‘70s - Red Skull, Dr. Doom, Darkseid, Arnim Zola. These are all crazy science fiction characters created by a guy who practically invented what we all do. So it shouldn't be too much of a surprise if we end up doing a few stories that are at least on the surface, a bit similar. I don't think they'll ultimately be that similar, actually, since Batman is apparently in prehistoric times, while Cap is time-slipping through his own life.

But really, it's a bit insulting that anyone thinks me or Morrison or any other writer is looking at current comics or TV shows or movies that just came out and going "oh, I'm going to take that idea and do it!" If you're a professional writer, the ideas and stories that have influenced you are in your subconscious, or they're things you encountered in your formative years, which for me are long past.

NRAMA: Fair enough. We've talked many times about how you worked to keep your Cap run somewhat insulated from the rest of the Marvel Universe's twists and turns, but here, with perhaps the most important storyline since his death, the story is firmly ensconced in the present-day "Dark Reign" Marvel Universe. Was that your choice, or was it just deemed that it was time for Cap to interact a bit more with the larger universe?

EB: Actually, I've always dealt with the status quo of the rest of the Marvel U even when doing my own thing in the book. If Cap is in Avengers, I reference it. If Nick Fury is running SHIELD, he's in Cap. If Tony Stark or Maria Hill is running SHIELD, they're in Cap... so now, with Norman running the show, he of course has to appear in Cap. And I've got the entire Avengers living in Bucky's basement, so I have to use them, you know? And why would I not want to? How cool is it that the Avengers are living in Bucky's freaking basement?

NRAMA: True. Before we go on, let’s nail down some of the little details. You play Zola, I'll play Osborn. The gun Sharon wielded "froze" Steve in time and space...where?

EB: In his own body. He was killed, but frozen right there at that moment.

NRAMA: And Sharon's smashy-smashy with the machine is was cut him free, and no one (save us readers) know where he is?

EB: Yep.

NRAMA: But we saw a body! And Thor saw his spirit! What th-?

EB: See the first answer. The Thor thing, you never know what a god can do when talking to the dead, right? I just asked JMS to make sure he didn't say where or when Cap was, or something like that. I can't remember that much about it. I just gave that note and he did his own thing. I didn't realize he was having it be the one year anniversary until too late, or I'd have said something, because I knew I was using that in Cap #600.

NRAMA: Sharon's the "constant" so she's Steve's anchor? He'll come to her if she's out there like bait, in line with what Skull was doing with her and the platform?

EB: On this one, you'll have to wait and see - it's not the constant the way it is in LOST, though. I honestly forgot they used that word in that episode when I wrote issue #41 or #42 when I first called her that, and no one said anything at the time. But if anything, this story proves that when I make a plan, I stick to it, right?

NRAMA: (laughs) True, true. So what was Skull trying to do? He's tried it before, but seriously, if this was another of his "I'll put my mind inside his body" things, that's just getting a little creepy along the lines of "I want to be him" homoeroticism...

EB: It's all on the page in issue #42, man.

NRAMA: Meanwhile - how far and wide is Steve going ? Will he be going to his Tralfamadore? The year 1602?

EB: Maybe. I cannot tell you or it would spoil the story.

NRAMA: Why can't Skull just kill Cap? If this is all part of his plan, this is approaching Rube Goldberg levels of complexity, and I have this feeling that somewhere, in an AIM headquarters, there's a rocking chair and a cat is sleeping near it with its tail under the rocker that’s labeled “Plan B.”

EB: Yeah, he's definitely got issues with the guy. Still, he doesn't have a real body right now, so that's gotta affect your mental health, right?

NRAMA: What dog does Norman have in this race? Is he still smart and with it enough to realize that his tenuous hold on power may not survive Cap's return?

EB: Oh, he's got bigger plans than that here, as we'll learn in the next few issues.

NRAMA: And where are the Skull's people in all of this?

EB: You'll see in issue #2 of Reborn.

NRAMA: Finally, gut level, Ed, how does it feel to finally be getting this story out?

EB: It feels amazing, honestly. To finally be telling the story I plotted out three years ago -- which is something I should try more often. Ross Macdonald, who I consider one of my biggest influences, said he liked to plot out a story and let it sit for as long as possible until starting the manuscript, because the story keeps rattling around in your mind, and he's right about that. And now to be seeing the pages come in. Man...

Hitch inked by Guice is amazing. And one of Bryan's secret strengths is that you write a scene for him and he just takes it and runs -- he takes a small set and makes it a huge set. He takes a fight and adds 100 guys to it. He's a lunatic like that. You could almost just write - page 5 - 15 - big fight, good guys lose (or win) and let him do the entire thing, but that would be cheating.

Twitter activity